Aided by some agitated weather gods in the shape of the storm Ciaran, an utterly chaotic match was settled by a moment of pure brilliance, as Darwin Núñez pulled out something special just when it appeared as though Liverpool had run out of answers against an ascendant Bournemouth. It proved just enough to tip the scales and push the Reds through to the fifth round of the EFL Cup.
Below, then, we take a look at some of the winners and losers on the night.
The Darwizard of Golz: We joke a lot about Darwin Núñez and his xG slingshot in these parts, as the Uruguayan has put up the best expected goals and assists numbers in Europe since arriving at Anfield last summer, but some erratic finishing has seen him fail to deliver goals to match, and the idea is that at some point, either through gradual regression or — more hilariously — a rush of unlikely goals, those numbers will coalesce into a 30 plus-goal season too beautiful to imagine.
We got a taste against Newcastle, as Darwin dispatched two difficult chances in most impressive manner, earning the Reds a hard-fought win, but tonight was different mustard.
Having initially drawn chuckles from the home crowd after miscontrolling a long pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold in the windy conditions, the former Benfica man doubled back and collected the ball, faced up with his marker, and after a quick step inside, absolutely leathered an unstoppable swerved effort into the back of the net behind Andrei Radu.
The rest of his performance was jumbled and messy, much like the majority of his team mates, but Darwin Núñez is a man of Moments, and he produced a spectacular one tonight.
Quansah Leap: In this writer’s opinion, Jarell Quansah has — despite the effervescent praise he has received — mostly looked fine since making his debut in Red. The 20-year old has kept things simple and avoided mistakes, proving that throwing him in there at the highest level won’t be disastrous, but he hasn’t really shown anything to indicate the four players ahead of him need to consider their position under threat quite yet.
Not so tonight. Against Bournemouth, Quansah was influential. With 114 touches and 97 passes attempted, the young centre-half had 40 more involvements and 35 more passes than number two on the list, including four balls in the final third. He was the primary ball hub as the Reds played their out from the back, playing quick, simple stuff when necessary, putting his studs on the ball to draw the press, and even taking it past a would-be tackler on a couple of occasions.
Seven clearances, a tackle and a pair of interceptions rounded out his contribution on the night, crystalising how important he was to the visitors on the defensive end of things as well.
The comic book frame and plus athleticism have been obvious from day one, and the composure and understanding of when to keep things simple soon became apparent, but the way Quansah expressed himself tonight is perhaps the most exciting development in the young man’s career yet.
Press Resistance: In the opening 20 minute of the second half, Liverpool conceded eight times as many shots as they took touches in the opposition box. Pinned back by a combination of aggressive opposition and outrageous weather, the Reds simply couldn’t find a way through Andoni Iraola’s seven-man press, and with the wind preventing any attempt to go direct, the visitors simply continued giving the ball away and facing wave after wave of Bournemouth attacks.
It didn’t seem like a pace the Cherries would have been able to keep up for much longer — and indeed the rest of the match proved as much — but the hosts could also have scored at least one goal before their equaliser, and Jürgen Klopp should make sure the players take home some lessons from their inability to beat such an aggressive press.
Credit to the Opposition
Andoni Iraola did what Andoni Iraola does, and Bournemouth were willing to go out on their shield tonight. The bravery and high intensity of their effort paired with the disgusting conditions made for a chaotic back and forth match that either team could have won, and given the discrepancy in talent between the two teams, that’s not at all a bad outcome for the Cherries and their new manager.
Whether he gets to stay in the job long enough to reap the rewards of his efforts remains to be see, given the as yet meager points tally and the trigger-happy disposition of most Premier League owners, but anybody paying attention can see the potential for something interesting happening down on the south coast.
What Happens Next
It’s triple away trips for the Reds, as their travel south to take on Luton on Sunday in a bid to potentially finish the weekend at the top of the table, before a short hop across the channel to face Toulouse and hopefully wrap up Group E in the Europa League early awaits next Thursday.